The historic wave of women elected to Congress last year want to amend the U.S. Constitution.
House Democrats have revived a push to ratify the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment, holding a congressional hearing on the measure Tuesday for the first time in 36 years. If ratified, the amendment would explicitly outlaw sex discrimination in all areas of American life.
"We are equal, but we need to be put in the Constitution," said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women. "We need to be recognized. And we need men to stand with us."
Congress approved the amendment in 1972, sending it to the states for ratification, but it failed to win approval from at least 38 statehouses before the statutory 1982 deadline.
"We’re going to have a fight about the time limit," Van Pelt said of House Democrats’ legislation to rescind the deadline.
"It really should be personal for every woman, and it should mean a lot to every man who loves women or who cares about equality at all," actress Patricia Arquette, who testified during Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, told ABC News Live.
"On the outside, you think that when you look at America women have equal rights," Arquette said. "But when you start picking it apart -- at all the ways women are falling through the cracks -- you start to think maybe we aren’t really equal?"
Opponents of the amendment call it unnecessary and warn that it would be used to lift restrictions on abortion, endanger privacy by lifting gender designations for bathrooms, and eliminate existing state-level protections for women.
"The ERA will build a wall -- a wall that will actually do something against the never-ending assault on our rights from the current or future presidents," actress and activist Alyssa Milano said.
"Ratifying an ERA will say to the nation and to the world that the most important document in American history refuses to allow any person to be discriminated against because of who they are," she said.
In the years since 1982, several states have tried to nullify past support for the ERA while others have launched renewed pushes to ratify the measure. Last month, Virginia came up one vote short of becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA.
"We think we’re going to take Virginia next year. We’re holding men’s feet to the fire. We want them to stand with us and get it done," Van Pelt said.